The Issues Blonde Has Thrown Up

In the wake of Frank Ocean’s internet-breaking release of his second album Blonde (stylised as Blond on the cover), a couple of very interesting side-debates have cropped up that I’d like to talk about.

blond

Should radio stations play any of the tracks from the record?

The issue in a nutshell is that the major stations don’t think there are any tracks on Blonde which they can play. They believe none of them are stand-out singles that would fit on their playlists. The other side of the coin is quite simply that the album went to number one on the album chart – surely the public wants to hear a track from it? Moreover, it’s been critically well received, and one would assume, based on this, that some DJs like the record. Surely, then, they should play the music they believe to be the best out there at the moment?

It’s an interesting discussion, as it brings up the issue of what actually constitutes a radio hit. For the first time in the history of radio and popular music, there is now a disparity between the radio airplay charts and the official charts, emphasised by Drake’s recent success with “One Dance.” It stayed at the top of the charts for a record-breaking 16 weeks, topping Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody” and Wet Wet Wet’s “Love Is All Around”. It was a landmark for the streaming generation, as the majority of “One Dance”‘s sales came through streaming plays.

In fact, if you weren’t  a fan of the song, or mainstream streaming playlists, you could have missed the song altogether, such was the lack of cultural impact of the song. I’m not taking a dig at “One Dance” here, it’s just considering it in comparison to “Love Is All Around”, which was synonymous with popular culture and life in early 90s being on the radio every fifth song, and blaring around shops, cafes and restaurants everywhere. “One Dance” hasn’t made anywhere as large an impact.

The music industry is always changing, but clearly here it has changed massively. If it is a good thing is a moot point; this is what the industry has become, and the business is adapting.

Bringing this back to radio, should it adapt similarly? In response to these changing trends of consumption, should we reevaluate what deserves air time? Shouldn’t the major stations start reflecting the Spotify charts?

Obviously, I’m not telling tastemakers such as Hugh Stephens, Steve Lamaq et al to start playing what is popular in streaming charts. Their job is to play the music they love and champion the tunes they believe in. But just maybe the Radio One and Capital playlists should reflect what popular culture is listening to?

And going back to Frank Ocean, shouldn’t tastemakers have strong enough convictions to play some tracks from the record?

For these reasons, I believe Blonde deserves air time. It’s a genuinely consuming record that has got everybody talking and  I think there’s room for a few tracks on radio playlists. I’d personally play “Pink + White”; it’s pop music made interesting.

And clearly Kanye agrees with me:

 

I’m clearly preaching the gospel of Yeezus.

Should record labels allow exclusive platform releases?

In the wake of Blonde‘s release, Universal music CEO Lucian Grange was reported in Forbes as saying that the Universal music group will no longer release any albums as streaming exclusives. 

This all follows Ocean’s much publicised fall-out with Def Jam records, one of Universal’s subsidiaries. The man who signed for Def Jam has gone on record criticising the label’s treatment of Frank, and clearly there was a rift between label and artist whatever happened. This rift caused Ocean to release his visual album Endless , which dropped a week before Blonde, on Def Jam and as an exclusive to Apple, to fulfil his contractual obligations. Then he released Blonde, also as an exclusive to Apple, on his own label.

A massive stab in the back for Def Jam, clearly, but a piece of very savvy work from Ocean. The Endless visual album was still a high-quality piece of art, featuring Arca and Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, but it was always only intended to be a taster for Blonde.

It now all begs the question: are exclusive streaming deals a good idea?

Despite all the above, Blonde has still been illegally downloaded over 75,000 times. This is a huge number, but has still not kept the album away from number one in both the UK and US charts. It does demonstrate, however, that music fans do not want to have to subscribe to a number of different services to hear their favourite new albums.

Spotify, as leaders of the market, have declared that they will not be drawn into this battle. Troy Carter, Spotify’s global head of creator services, called the practice of exclusive streaming “bad for artists, bad for consumers, and bad for the whole industry,” which are very strong words.

Apple Music and Tidal, however, will probably not cease the practice. They want to wrestle the dominance from Spotify and despite the illegal downloads, it is a very successful ploy when you have artists like Drake, Kanye and Beyonce releasing new albums.

Personally, I’d rather not have to join multiple streaming platforms, but I feel exclusives are an inevitable progression of the industry. Music deserves to stay as high value product, pieces of art that bands create, and need to monetise to make a living and produce more. I see the industry eventually becoming more like the open market place of film, with Netflix, Amazon et al using exclusive shows and movies as their own unique selling points.

blond 2

What is your opinion on these two issues? Do you agree with me? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below!

Sachin Turakhia

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